In 1991, Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel TheSilence of the Lambs thrilled movie goers and critics alike. Through the superb acting of Sir Anthony Hopkins the literary monster Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter was brought to life. In the years that followed we have seen the other Harris novels Red Dragon and Hannibal brought to the big screen, but they were unable to capture the essence or success of the Oscar winning original. With the recent release of Hannibal Rising director Peter Webber is hoping to recapture that cinematic magic by showing fans the origins of one of the greatest villains of all time.
The movie is quite popular even today and runs to packed houses in theatres every time it is released, which is quite a rare feat for a movie that old, for which Hopkins get the entire credit for such a stellar performance rarely seen on celluloid and one that continues to inspire actors of today and cyberflix tv is a regular website where it has received 4 stars out of 5 and is downloaded whenever available.
Set against the backdrop of the Eastern Front at the end of WWII, we quickly learn the notorious serial killer who would come to be known as The Cannibal’s childhood was unbearably tragic. As the fighting between Russia and Germany was coming to a bitter end, an eight year old Hannibal and his younger sister witness the horrors of war when their family is killed when they are caught in crossfire leaving the two young children to fend for themselves. This leaves them defenseless and they fall victim to a band of war criminals who take over the Lecter family lodge to wait out the remainder of the war.
The criminals are lead by the ruthless Grutas, played admirably by Rhys Ifans. Trapped at the lodge in the dead of winter, the criminals come to the realization they must eat to survive. With Hannibal’s young sister Mischa already dying from pneumonia, the criminals do the unthinkable and the Hannibal we have come to know is born.
After escaping the horrors of the lodge, and then later on a state orphanage, Lecter finally settles in Paris with his recently deceased Uncle’s beautiful Japanese widow. There he comes into his own and becomes a young medical student with a knack for anatomy. The murder of his sister is like a cancer growing with him however, and his hatred leads him to only one conclusion, revenge. The rest of the film is spent showing Hannibal tracking down the war criminals and disposing of them in typical Hannibal fashion.
Peter Webber does a somewhat average job with Hannibal Rising. Known more for his work in television, Webber seems a little out of his league with a project of this scope. The movie was shot on location in the Czech Republic which did add a sense of realism to the story, and Webber did do a good job building the suspense in the later scenes when Hannibal was stalking his prey. The problem however, was at no point did this movie feel like a thriller which is the genre the character Hannibal Lecter works best in.
The screenplay was not what it could have been either. This is odd because it was written by Thomas Harris himself, and based on his own book. The movie was pretty choppy in parts especially during the beginning where it was really important for the story to flow. I think Harris made the mistake of glossing over Hannibal’s childhood, and spending more creative energy on the revenge factor. It is shame, because Harris could have really taken this opportunity to re-invent and re-energize the Hannibal Lecter character, but instead settled for a mediocre adaptation.
The saving grace of this movie is its star Gaspard Ulliel. A virtual unknown in Hollywood, Ulliel truly captures the creepy personality and down right frightening mannerisms of Hannibal Lecter that Sir Anthony Hopkins brought to the role. Ulliel’s acting was not as well done as Hopkins, but it was clear he understood the character. As mentioned earlier Rhys Ifans does a good job with the role of Grutas and continues to show why he is a superb character actor. Li Gong and Dominic West do serviceable if unforgettable jobs with their roles, but they can not be held completely at fault as their respective characters really were not written well.
With the success of The Silence of the Lambs, fans have drooled at the prospect of seeing more of their favorite anti-hero Hannibal Lecter. The films Red Dragon and Hannibal have only wetted those fans appetites even more only to leave a bad taste in their mouths. It was hoped the newest adaptation written by Thomas Harris himself, Hannibal Rising, would be the sequel Lecter fans have dreamed of. Unfortunately, this film falls short in its attempt as well. The film works better as an action movie instead of the thriller it was intended to be. The performance of Gaspard Ulliel makes Hannibal Rising better than its two predecessors, but still far from the masterpiece of The Silence of the Lambs. Though not a bad movie, Hannibal Rising would probably be better enjoyed at home, and so I would advise to wait for the DVD.